As humans, we all make mistakes at one time or another. When a mistake is made or something has been done to hurt someone, many people tend to withdraw and wall off in shame, inwardly berating themselves. This behavior is what is called toxic shame. The message is “I’m so hurt by how I hurt you that my pain is more important than yours.” Others lash out and attempt to mask their error by blaming the other person for his wrong-doings. Both of these types of behaviors are self-absorbed and do nothing to ameliorate the other person’s pain.
Appropriate shame, on the other hand, means reaching out to the person who has been hurt, acknowledging your mistake and doing whatever you can to correct it -- or at the very least, to never do it again. Next time, you make a mistake or do something hurtful to your partner, reach out, own your behavior and resolve to do differently. Genuine remorse is good; it motivates you to do better. By retreating or lashing out, the shame will only be on you!
Amy Warren is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and Master Certified Relational Life Therapist. She counsels individuals and couples in her private practice in Sarasota and nationwide by phone.